Today, the California Supreme Court finally issued its opinion in Brinker v. Superior Court, a case that had been on its docket since 2008. In what has generally been acknowledged as a major victory for California employers, the court issued clear rules on how and when meal and rest periods must be provided. In addition, the justices provided additional important comments on the standards to be applied by trial courts in considering motions for class certification in cases generally. Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. The Superior Court of San Diego County, No. S166350, California Supreme Court (April 12, 2012).

Ogletree Deakins will be conducting a webinar to discuss the Brinker decision and its ramifications for California employers on Friday, April 20, 2012. To register for this webinar, contact Moira Cue at (310) 217-8191 (ext. 221). The Brinker decision also will be discussed in detail at the 2012 Workplace Strategies® seminar in May in Phoenix. To view the full seminar agenda, click here. To register for the program, click here or contact Kim Beam at (800) 277-1410 or kim.beam@ogletreedeakins.com.

The Court’s Holding

In a nutshell, the California Supreme Court ruled that:

  • The first meal period must only be “provided” and must begin before the end of the fifth hour of work. The second meal period must be “provided” before the end of 10 hours of work. Meal periods are not required every five hours as the plaintiffs contended.
  • Rest periods must be “permitted” for every four hours of work or major fraction of four hours, which the court determined to be more than two hours. This means that for any employee working 3½ hours or more in a workday, the following number of 10-minute rest breaks must be provided:
    • 3½ hours to six hours = One
    • Over six hours to 10 hours = Two
    • Over 10 hours to 14 hours = Three

The court also ruled that there is no requirement that a rest period be provided before the first meal period as had been claimed by the plaintiffs.

What It Means to “Provide” a Meal Period

In applying the clearly stated requirement of the law, and common sense, the court concluded that “an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.”

What Should Employers Do?

Employers should immediately review their policies to make certain they provide the following:

  • Employees are assured they are fully entitled to take an unpaid and uninterrupted 30-minute meal period before the end of the fifth hour of work each day during which they are at liberty to use the time for whatever purpose they desire, including leaving the workplace.
  • Employees are assured they are fully entitled to take a second unpaid and uninterrupted 30-minute meal period after 10 hours of work each day subject to the same conditions.
  • Employees must accurately record the time they begin and end each meal period each day.
  • If an employee finds that, due to work requirements, he or she has not been able to take one or more required daily meal periods, then the employee must report such on his or her time record. The employee will be paid for the time worked and one hour of premium pay for that day.
  • Employees who work 3½ hours or more in any workday are authorized and permitted to take net 10-minute paid rest breaks as follows:
    • 3½ hours to six hours = One
    • Over six hours to 10 hours = Two
    • Over 10 hours to 14 hours = Three
  • If an employee finds that, due to work requirements, he or she has not been able to take one or more required rest breaks, then the employee must report such on his or her time record. The employee will be paid one hour of premium pay for that day.

There Is More to the Decision

In addition to finally clarifying these most important areas of California’s meal and rest period law, the California Supreme Court ruled on general class action certification requirements and found that under the circumstances presented in this case, the plaintiffs’ claims of off-the-clock work were not appropriate for class certification.

Practical Impact

According to Robert Jones, of counsel in Ogletree Deakins’ San Francisco office: “This decision is a long-awaited victory for California employers. Brinker provides important clarification on employers’ obligations to provide meal and rest breaks for employees. Employers, especially those with large workforces or with off-site employees, now need only make available meal and rest periods and not ensure that they are taken.”

Additional Information

Should you have any questions about this decision or its impact on your workplace, contact the Ogletree Deakins attorney with whom you normally work or the Client Services Department at 866-287-2576 or via email at clientservices@ogletreedeakins.com.


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